(Please see UPDATE below)
Where did it all go wrong? I've just been watching Channel4 and its Dispatches programme about Gordon Brown's performance during his first year in office (for the next week you can watch the episode here with the 'catch-up' feature, and here is the link to an online article about the programme). I expected it to be a bland, generally-favourable analysis, specially as it was to be fronted by Andrew Rawnsley whom I have always assumed to be more 'left' than 'right'.
There are two ways to interpret what unfolded between 8pm and 9pm tonight during the programme, I'd say.
We had the spectacle of senior Ministers such as Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw basically saying that Brown was slow at decision-making. Straw made the point that he was a lot slower at this than Tony Blair had been. Smith opined that it "wasn't necessarily a bad thing". There were many other Labour 'worthies' giving their two-penth worth, mostly seeming to express support, but once I thought about the precise words they were all using I did begin to wonder. Even Brown's schoolboy friend, now ennobled as Lord Elder, whilst generally affectionate toward Brown, didn't seem to me to hold back on saying what he really thought, albeit heavily-coded. Remember these are senior government ministers and fellow-Labourites talking about a serving Prime Minister, not people reminiscing about events that occurred twenty years ago.
So what was the programme all about? What were the motives of those who made it and, more importantly, of those senior Ministers who agreed to paricipate? One interpetation is that this reflects an admirable openness at the heart of Government, both in relation to the Prime Minister and to the Labour Party's, and Gordon Brown's, current very low standing in the opinion polls. The other interpretation is that it was a pretty clear (if coded) public admission by his own senior colleagues that they have saddled themselves with a huge electoral liability in the person of Gordon Brown. Whilst it might be nice to imagine that 'openness' was the participants' motivation, everything I have seen of Labour in their 11 years in power indicates that this has never been their way of doing things so is most probably not credible. We are therefore left with the strong possibility that it was simply senior colleagues, totally fed up with the incompetent performance of their Leader, deciding to say what they think of him. Normally such things would be done in private interviews with a Prime Minister, either singly or as a group. The fact that serving government ministers agreed to say what they did on a television programme is, to me, pretty cataclysmic.
I must just remind myself, however embarrassed I feel for Mr Brown to have had this public 'drubbing' (and make no mistake that the ever-so-polite eliptical language in which it was couched constituted just that), that every word they spoke was justified. The sooner Brown goes, the better.
PS/ I shall be very intrigued to read how other bloggers and comentators have reacted to this programme. Is my interpetation shared, or do others take a completely different view entirely?
UPDATE: (Tuesday 10JUN08 10.04 BST) For the next week you can watch the Dispatches episode on Gordon Brown here.